Got news? Catholics are smart and …

bust-johnpauliiWe’re going to be seeing lots and lots of commentary about the death of Father Richard John Neuhaus and the end of an era, especially if you combine his passing with that of another important Catholic activist on the right, Deacon Paul Weyrich.

Over at the God & Country blog at U.S. News & World Report, Dan Gilgoff has some rather blunt things to say about the role that Neuhaus and other traditional Catholics played in the politics of the past decade or two.

I think what he says is pretty accurate. But, here again, we have a strong statement of opinion that could have been the basis of a very strong, very important piece of news writing. Thus, I am posting this as another example of the “Got news?” syndrome that your GetReligionistas are starting to spotlight.

The headline: “Richard Neuhaus’s Death and the Catholic-Evangelical Tension in Politics.” And here is the crucial passage in this mini-essay:

… Neuhaus’s death … reminds us that Catholics remain the brains of a conservative movement built on evangelical brawn. This played out during the Bush years in Supreme Court nominations. John Roberts, Bush’s first Supreme Court appointment, was embraced by conservative evangelicals, largely because his Catholicism assured them that he was a pro-lifer at heart, despite his thin judicial record.

Bush’s second nomination, Harriet Miers, was initially backed by evangelicals because of her evangelical Christian faith, but nearly every other constituency on the right, including many conservative Catholics, rejected her as an intellectual lightweight. Many conservative Catholics were appalled at the way conservative evangelical leaders like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson appeared to rely on her faith background as the sole basis for their support. The moment threw a light on the split between the social conservative movement’s Catholic head and evangelical heart.

So, basically, Catholics are smart and evangelicals are, well, not as smart. Is that the point?

I think it is possible to say that Catholic intellectuals have played a major role in the era. That’s obvious. But there has been another trend, which is linked to Reformed Protestants playing a larger role and many evangelicals — whatever that word means — spending more time learning about their ancient roots in natural theology and, well, Catholic thought.

You would be amazed how many conservative Protestants know quite a bit about the life and works of John Paul II and Benedict SVI. So I think Gilgoff has HALF of an important equation. But, most of all, I would love to see his magazine report this story, rather than just proclaim it.

Got news? Yes, there is news here. Hard news.

Photo: Bronze bust of Pope John Paul II.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • FW Ken

    We usually get dissed as ignorant boobs, so I guess I’ll take it.
    :-)

  • Jerry

    split between the social conservative movement’s Catholic head and evangelical heart.

    So, basically, Catholics are smart and evangelicals are, well, not as smart. Is that the point?

    So who represents the evangelical heart? Sure in an opinion piece he’s free to say whatever he likes, but who speaks for evangelicals is a real question and, as we’ve seen, a matter for some discussion and controversy.

  • dalea

    Andrew Sullivan’s take on Neuhaus and his role in the religious world. AS raises some very good points from a glbtq2s perspective.

    A full accounting of the man’s crusade against any recognition in law or even public culture of the dignity and equality of homosexuals has yet to appear in the various obits. But Neuhaus was central to redefining Republicanism as Christianism, to seeing religion as indistinguishable from politics, and to cementing the marginalization and disdain of gay people as a pillar of the Christianist movement.

    It was therefore unsurprising that it was Neuhaus to whom president Bush turned when deciding whether to back amending the federal constitution to ensure that gay people were for ever defined as inferior to straight people under the law; and it was Neuhaus’ influence that allowed Bush to pursue this agenda without ever even acknowledging the existence of the human beings whose families he was seeking to penalize and stigmatize in the founding document. The homophobia of the Bush administration cannot be understood without understanding how Neuhaus personally pioneered and shaped it.

    With Neuhaus as with Ratzinger, the gay issue was central and passionate and personal. This needs stating for the record.

  • Reader John

    I disagree with dalea and with Sullivan and would have been upset had the obits on Neuhaus made it sound as if he had been oddly obsessed with “the gay issue.” It depends, I guess, on what one considers baseline and normal, and thus who’s being transgressive in a newsworthy way.
    The human dignity of “glbtq2s” (omigosh! they’ve added more initials and I don’t know what they stand for!) neither Neuhaus nor Ratzinger would doubt. What they object to is the transvaluation of values, whereby the vice of homosexual behavior becomes a virtue, the virtue of chastity becomes derisable, and normal sexuality becomes “homophobia.” Insofar as Neuhaus and Ratzinger dealt with the homosexualist movement(s) at all, it was only defensive, the homosexualists being the aggressors. There was no Christian intellectual defense of sexual normalcy (the best of which defenses do tend to be Catholic) until there was a social movement advocating deviancy.
    Of course, that’s not how mainstream media plays the story generally, but it’s the truth – and thus how it should be played.

  • str1977

    Indeed Reader John.

    The facts are rather, that with Sullivan, the gay issue is central (if not solely important) and passionate and personal. This needs stating for the record.

    The ridiculous hyperbole of the quoted text makes this all too clear.

  • Nola

    All Of Our Priests Are Highly Intelligent Learned Men of GOD.
    Though In Their Humbleness They would Not Admit It.
    Look at The Encyclical’s of Our Holy Father’s.
    The Many Books Papa Benedict XVI Has Written
    The Encyclical’s Of Papa John Paul II
    Our Priests are under so much pressure from feminists and the like, But They Keep The Faith Of Our Fathers.
    I Love Respect and Admire them All.
    GOD Bless You Father Richard John Neuhaus
    GOD Bless All Our Priests, We Are So Blessed To Have Them.

  • FW Ken

    With Neuhaus as with Ratzinger, the gay issue was central and passionate and personal.

    Precisely who is obsessed with what is becoming abundantly clear as time passes.

  • http://statenislandcatholic.blogspot.com/ JC

    Actually, the evangelical leadership really isn’t smart. They had to be led by the Catholic Church into the pro-life movement in the 70s, and then in the subsequent period- particularly the 90s and 00s- they have neutered themselves by becoming mere tools of the Republican establishment. I think of 1996 and 2000, when they could have supported a real pro-life presidential candidate in Pat Buchanan, but they rejected him because he was Catholic and because he was not the choice of the Republican leadership. What is evangelicalism anyway? Just the religious wing of the Republican party.

  • cp

    Neuhaus does not represent all priests, speak for all priests. Most priests cannot hold a candle to him. Yes, priests are under a lot of pressure, but most of them duck it and any important intellectual issues in order to dwell on pop-psychology nosegays to which no one listens nor takes to heart. Theirs is an almost totally horizontal perspective, not the vertical that JPII so often and so strongly emphasized. Humanize is their mantra, not divinize.

    Just what does “glbtq2s” mean anyhow? Has Georgetown U. subscribed to this “diversity religion” addition yet? Is this just more Californication?

  • Tim J.

    Sullivan’s analysis is wrong in more than one way. Homosexuality was not Neuhaus’ animating issue, abortion was. This is also clashes with his claim that he “redefined Republicanism as Christianism.” In reality, Neuhaus was pushed into the Republican fold by the Democrats’ wholehearted embrace of abortion.

  • Mark

    Catholics may be smart, but why did most of them vote for Bush and now Obama, because neither of those men can be truly called Christian? If most Catholics, and I am one of them, truly look into the background of either of these men, they may be surprised by what they find. Catholics need to ask themselves are they and the world are better off now or were they better of say 10 years ago? Personally I don’t think we have had a decent President since John Kennedy.

  • NW Ohio former Anglican

    glbtq2s = “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer and 2-Spirited” — whatever that last means.

  • http://religionculturepower.blogspot.com/ Christopher W. Chase

    I think it is possible to say that Catholic intellectuals have played a major role in the era. That’s obvious. But there has been another trend, which is linked to Reformed Protestants playing a larger role and many evangelicals — whatever that word means — spending more time learning about their ancient roots in natural theology and, well, Catholic thought.

    Let’s remember that Mark Noll’s book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” was very influential in framing media images of evangelicals. Francis Schaeffer’s intellectual rigor may be read by a few, but T. Dewitt Talmage’s spirited polemics reached a far larger evangelical audience.

  • FW Ken

    Mark,

    Whatever his qualities as a president, John Kennedy was not more or less a Christian than GW Bush or Barack Obama. In fact, I would put him in the same religious group as Bill Clinton, if you get my drift.

    My snarky comment about Sullivan’s obsessions aside, I’ve seriously cannot remember Fr. Neuhaus writing much about same-sex issues. A google search on “Richard Neuhaus and homosexuality” produced two essays that consider the subject, but mostly in service to his real interests: judicial usurpation of politics and liberal Catholics.

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1082

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=527

    From here:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jan/09010813.html

    Fr. Richard John Neuhaus stated in First Things “Some still complain that the entire crisis…was manufactured by the media and motivated by anti-Catholicism…but without the deeper crisis of the infidelity and negligence of bishops, the media could not have produced the public and, consequently, episcopal sense of crisis. The scandal was in the chanceries, parishes, and seminaries before it was on the front page or television news. ”

    In an earlier article Neuhaus stated, “Homosexuality is very close to the center of the crisis. At the epicenter is the grave negligence of bishops. Not all bishops, to be sure, but too many.”

    In his three “Scandal Time” essays, he certainly addressed the issue of same-sex behaviors (about 85% of complaints against Catholic priests were homosexual in nature), but placed that in the context of fidelity to the Catholic Faith, but same-sex attraction, per se. And, per the quotation, he saved his strongest vitriol for the bishops, who made the scandal and failed to respond to the scandal appropriately. I believe he said of bishop’s response was that the headlines should have read: “They did what we told them to do”; “They” are the bishops, and “we” are the media. In other words, he considered the charter, and the various other activities to be public relations rather than an authentic pastoral response to the sexual crimes of priests.

    Finally, here are 20 quotes from Fr. Neuhaus, found at

    http://thinkexist.com/quotation/on-such-questions-the-church-has-clearly-defined/554534.html

    Two concern same-sex matters. This is one of them.

    There can be little doubt that over the centuries that there have been great priests, bishops – and maybe even popes – who by today’s criterion would be deemed homosexual in orientation, … It’s not the nature of one’s temptations – be they sexual or something else – it’s how to deal with these temptations.”

    By the way, I didn’t use the link function because it seemed to make my comment #1 go into limbo, but then it appeared this morning. Not sure what that means.

  • http://religionculturepower.blogspot.com/ Christopher W. Chase

    Andrew Sullivan does have a point here, although I agree that “abortion” was much more the defining issue of “Republicanism” as “Christianism.” World religions, especially Judaism, have traditionally held life as beginning at fetal movement, rather than conception. Sullivan is correct in saying that it is personal, but misses the mark in assessing why this is the case.

    Neuhaus adhered very strictly to the Catholic notion of human marriage reflecting the mystical relationship of God to the World (as in the Song of Solomon)–whereas Protestants have tended to emphasize the notion that there are no distinctions in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Outlier Protestant sects (like Shakers, Oneidans) have also highlighted Mark 12:25 and Matthew 22:30, saying that there is no marriage in heaven.

    Neuhaus understood the Catholic vision requires gender polarity, and thus it is personal–at the deepest level.

  • http://religionculturepower.blogspot.com/ Christopher W. Chase

    In his three “Scandal Time” essays, he certainly addressed the issue of same-sex behaviors (about 85% of complaints against Catholic priests were homosexual in nature), but placed that in the context of fidelity to the Catholic Faith, but same-sex attraction, per se.

    Exactly. For Neuhaus it comes back to the Catholic vision of action, rather than being. Its what you do more than who you are. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t personal–look again at the nature of Catholic marriage.

  • Dave

    A “two-spirit” person holds male and female spirits within, in roughly equal balance, whatever s/he does about it in terms of sexual orientation, gender reassignment, dress or whatever. Afaik it’s a Native American concept.

    Nobody is defining heterosexuality as homophobia; let’s not let everyday paranoia slide into comedy. Insistence that heterosexuality is the only proper format — that can fairly be called homophobia, though a more precise term is heterosexism.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Folks:

    For some reason, the site’s function that sends me notices about new comments has broken.

    Thus, this thread has lurched way off into opinion yelling without connections to the media issue that is the focus of the post.

    I will not kill comments at this point. It’s too late.

    But please stay on the media topic, or I will have to simply shut down the thread.

  • cheryl

    Actually, rather than “with Neuhaus as with Ratzinger” it’s with Andrew Sullivan HIMSELF that “the gay issue was central and passionate and personal.”

    As Father Neuhaus once memorably remarked, the “gay issue” was the “polestar” of Sullivan’s journalism.

    Another reason I’m going to deeply miss Father Neuhaus, since Andrew Sullivan is still here.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Apropos A. Sullivan’s Gay fanaticism–it is typical of much media coverage of the pope and other Catholic leaders. They can write a million page document with one sentence defending traditional Christian sexual morality and everyone with a brain knows the media will make a headline of that one sentence and all the columnists and editorialists will add to the pigpile–all the while accusing the Church and her leaders of being obssessed with the issue THEY are totally and fanatically obssessed with.

  • Nola

    In Response to Deacon John M. Bresnahan:
    What You Said Is The Truth.
    I Totally Agree.
    GOD Bless You.

  • http://www.soilcatholics.blogspot.com Peggy

    Fr. Neuhaus and Catholics in general are more open-minded than evangelicals regarding religious diversity. Here is one example of Fr. Neuhaus’ views of Mormonism: http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html. I couldn’t find another link to a briefer article in which Fr. Neuhaus says Mormonism may not be Christianity, as he says in the link I provide, but some Mormons might very well be Christians given their love of Christ and following the gospel and such.

    Contrast that with the absolute opposition to Mitt Romney and any one else not deemed appropriately Christian by evangelical ministers who were all over cable TV last winter. One minister indicated that he could not vote for any one who did not accept Jesus Christ as his savior. Presumably leaves out Jews or any one else.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Several comments spiked.

    I am still unplugged from reading comments in email.

    So this thread is officially closed.

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